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T.R.'s Tips: Turkey Biology & Behavior

Photo courtesy US FWS

Understanding Turkey Habitat Understanding what types of habitat turkeys prefer helps you to locate them during the spring hunting season.

Forage

Turkeys eat a wide range of foods including succulent grasses and forbes, insects, leftover grains, fruits of the grape, cherry and black gum, seeds including mast crops of acorns, pine nuts and juniper (cedar) berries, and new growth agricultural crops. In the winter turkeys rely heavily on acorns and seeds; branch tips of brush and trees; leftover grain crops; and will feed heavily in fields where manure has been spread; at corn cribs and feedlots; and at silage piles. In the early spring turkeys often rely on leftover grain in agricultural fields. Once the weather warms and new green growth appears they will begin feeding in pastures, river and creek bottoms, and hayfields, where they eat green forage and search for insects. Hens often seek out sources of calcium (such as land snails) for egg production in the spring.

Roosts

The availability and location of roosting sites is a determining factor in turkey use of the habitat. If few or no roosting sites are available turkeys may leave the area or not use it. They prefer to roost in heavy timber in ravines if possible; where they can be out of strong prevailing winds in winter, but they will roost in trees open to the wind. Roost sites are often located over or near water in the south.

Scientific studies have shown that turkeys often roost on an east or south facing slope, about a third of the way down the slope where the winds are calm. East and south facing slopes also receive the earliest sunlight, allowing the birds to warm-up and be able to see early in the morning. In one study roost sites were often within one half mile of water, and five hundred yards of a meadow. This could be attributed to the fact that turkeys often feed before going to roost in the evening, and they don't travel far at dusk. The preferred roosts in the study were mature trees with open crowns giving the turkeys room to fly into the trees and move around. They also preferred trees with large horizontal limbs to roost on.

In western areas turkeys use fir, pine, spruce, cottonwood and large aspen trees as roosts. Eastern birds often choose pines, elm, maple, box elder, large oak, and cottonwood. Mature toms often choose pines because the pines can reduce wind speeds by 50-70 percent. Eastern turkeys generally have several roost sites in their home range, and they may use different sites on successive nights. In limited and poor habitat, Merriam's turkeys often roost in the same trees on a regular basis.

 

Turkey Habits

Winter Behavior

During the winter turkeys separate into flocks of different sexes and age groups; the old and young hens remain in their own flocks, the jakes in other flocks, and the toms in yet other flocks. This flocking instinct is strong in most grazing animals that depend on their ability to see and hear for defense. Because they spend so much time eating they can't always be on guard. Therefore, the more animals there are together, the more time each one can spend eating while others watch; there is security in numbers.

Spring Behavior

With the approach of spring the weather gets warmer, daylight hours become longer and turkeys get the urge to mate. The jakes may join the toms and begin forming small groups that search for hens. Both the jakes and toms begin to associate with the hens as they all look for new spring growth, succulent grasses, forbes and insects that appear near stream beds and on south facing slopes that warm up first. They look for leftover agricultural crops, mast crops of nuts and acorns, and pick through cow chips, cattle feeding areas, and old and new plowing for insects and leftover food. Where turkeys inhabit hilly or mountainous terrain they may even change home ranges, seeking higher elevations as snow depth decreases and new forage becomes available. They may travel from as little as a quarter mile, to as many as several miles between their winter and spring range.

Daily Activity

Turkeys normally roost in trees at night, wake up about an hour before daylight, begin calling about a half-hour before daylight, and fly down from their roost from a half-hour to ten minutes before daylight. Once they are on the ground they usually look for food. If they land in wooded areas they may look for nearby food; they generally move to an open feeding area within a half hour. Whether they are in wooded, shrub or open areas they search for seeds, nuts, grasses, forbes and small insects on the ground.

I've seen a wintering flock of turkeys spend four hours in a cornfield in early spring, prior to the breeding season. However, the normal amount of time spent by large flocks or groups feeding in open areas is about an hour to an hour and a half. Then they move to a new opening or into the woods. During mid-day the turkeys may loaf in wooded areas and fly up to roost. They generally begin to feed again in the late afternoon, and fly back up to roost at about sundown.

Habits

Turkey habits vary greatly by region and even local areas. Some Eastern and Merriam's turkeys become accustomed to human activity and inhabit cities and towns, while a few miles away the mere sight of a car will send birds into cover. In some western areas turkeys may frequent farmyards, use farm groves and buildings for roost sites, exhibit no fear of humans, dogs or livestock, and become pets.

Reaction to Danger

Wild turkeys are extremely wary, with excellent eyesight, but they don't hear much better than the average human. However, they are very aware of suspicious noises and their first reaction to possible danger is alarm, and when they are alarmed they usually run away or take flight. Turkeys have better eyesight than humans, but, because of their widely spaced eyes they have poor binocular vision and depth perception. They see very little in front of them with both eyes at the same time, which makes it difficult for them to determine relative size and distance of objects. Any unexpected movement makes them alert.

While the first response of a turkey to danger is an alarm call and then flight, it will not usually leave its home range. Because of the small size of their brain turkeys don't have the ability to learn as well as animals with larger brains. With limited ability to learn, and because they inhabit a traditional home range, fleeing turkeys usually do not leave their range but flee back into it; or if they do leave they return soon after. Because they have not been outside their home range, the risk of danger is greater outside the home range than in it. Turkeys seldom vacate their home range because of hunting pressure; they may be hunted out of an area, but not driven out. They do not even avoid places that have been dangerous to them in the past. I have shot turkeys in the same area where they were shot at and missed the day before.

Turkey Vocalizations

An understanding of the different calls that turkeys use will help when you are trying to call turkeys. Turkey researchers have described as many as 20 different turkey calls. They fall into six basic categories: Agonistic, Alarm, Contact, Flying, Maternal/Neonatal and Advertising/Mating.

Alarm Call

When a turkey becomes aware of danger it makes a loud, sharp Alarm Putt of from one to five notes that is used to warn other birds of danger; TUT, TUT, TUT. The call is a sign that a bird has seen a potential predator, and is usually followed by the bird running or flying away. Do not use this call when hunting turkeys.

Agonistic Calls

Turkeys make a number of soft Putts, Purrs, and Whines while feeding. These calls are referred to as agonistic (as in agonizing) because they help keep the flock in contact, while keeping them apart when their heads are down and they can't see each other. The birds are uncomfortable when they get too close; thus they are in agony, so to speak. When they make these calls they are saying, "This is my space, don't get to close." The Feeding Whine or Purr sounds like the call made by a feeding chicken; a soft errr. It may be followed by one or more Feeding Putts; a soft contented putt, putt. I use these calls shortly after I use a flydown cackle, to convince a tom that there are hens on the ground and feeding. I also use it on toms that hang up out of range, to calm them down.

Fighting Calls

Fighting turkeys use an Aggressive Purr that is louder and more insistent than the feeding purr; the call is often interrupted by flapping wings, kicking and neck wrestling. Other turkeys hearing a fight often come running to see which birds are fighting, and which birds win and lose. The loser often drops down in the flock hierarchy, leaving room for the birds beneath it to move up. Any bird that has a chance to move up in the hierarchy will do so. The sound of birds fighting will cause dominants and groups of toms, even hens, to come running, so they can see which birds are fighting in their area. I use this call to bring in dominant toms or hens when everything else fails. I've heard toms use a churrt - churrt as a threat. This is probably one of the most aggressive forms of an agonistic call.

Contact and Maternal/Neonatal Calls

Because the Contact Calls are used most often between the hen and her poults they are basically the same as the Maternal/Neonatal Calls. When turkeys use these calls they are saying "Here I am, where are You?" The contact calls of young turkeys are the Lost Whistle, Kee-Kee and the Kee-Kee Run. These are all high pitched calls that change as the young turkey grows.

The Lost Whistle is the sound very young birds make. It is a high pitched whistle; peep, peep, peep, peep. As summer advances the voices of the poults change and the Lost Whistle becomes the Kee-Kee; a lower coarser kee, kee, kee. It usually has three unevenly spaced notes in about a second, with each note .10 to .15 seconds in length. Many callers fail to recreate this call correctly by using only two notes, or by using up to five notes. Maybe the name of the call should be changed to the Kee-Kee-Kee.

As fall approaches the young turkeys begin to add yelps at the end of the Kee-Kee and produce the Kee-Kee Run. The Kee-Kee Run is the basic Kee-Kee followed by several yelps; kee-kee-kee, chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp. The notes of this call are unevenly spaced, with each note from .05 to .10 seconds in length. All three of these lost calls are used by the young to tell their mother they are lost and to trying to get back together. I use these calls in the fall, after I have scattered a flock.

Adult turkeys use many different yelps and clucks to keep in contact in different situations. Most Yelps are the same as the "Here I am, where are you?" call of geese and other flocking birds, which is used to keep the birds in contact with each other.

The Tree Yelp is often the first sound of the day, a soft, nasal, three to five note call performed while the birds are on the roost before daylight. It is a soft chirp-chirp-chirp ... chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp, or a variation. There are usually three to four notes per second, with each note being about .08 seconds in length. This call is used by a bird when it is telling the others it is awake and asking if there are other birds nearby and awake. This is the first call I use in the morning, to see if there are toms in the area and still on the roost.

The Plain Yelp is performed when the turkeys are within seeing distance of each other. It often consists of three to nine notes, all on the same pitch and of the same volume, with three to four notes per second, and each note lasting .08 to .10 seconds; chirp, chirp, chirp. I use this call when toms are up close, or within seeing distance of the decoys.

The Lost Yelp is much like the Plain Yelp but may contain twenty or more notes, and it becomes louder toward the end of the call. The bird's voice may "break" as it tries to make the call as loud as possible, which causes it to have a raspy sound. There may be from three to four notes per second, with each note lasting .10 to .15 seconds.

The Assembly Yelp is used by the hen in the fall to regroup the young. It usually consists six to ten or more evenly spaced yelps that are loud and sharp, with two to four notes per second, and each note lasting from .12 to .20 seconds. I often hear hens make a loud, long series of yelps while they are on the strut during the breeding phase. I am not sure if this is an Assembly Yelp or a Lost Yelp. But, I do know that toms often show up in areas where hens are making this call. I use Lost Yelps and Assembly Yelps to get a tom fired up on the roost, and to keep it coming once it is on the ground.

The Plain Cluck is used by turkeys to get the visual attention of another bird. It is primarily a close range contact call, again saying "Here am I, where are you?" A bird making this call wants to hear another bird make the same call so they can get together. It is a sharp, short sound, similar to the alarm putt but not as loud or as insistent; tut...tut. The notes of the cluck are often separated by as much as three seconds, which distinguishes it from the faster, closely spaced Fast Cutt. I often hear hens use several soft Clucks and Purrs while they are feeding. It sounds like putt, putt, putt, errr, putt .... putt, putt, putt, errr. I use this call when a tom hangs up nearby, or to stop it for a shot.

The Fast Cutt, or Cutting, is one turkey using the "Here I am, where are you?" but telling the other bird "If we are going to get together you have to come to me." It is a loud insistent call, and the notes are strung together in bursts of two's and three's, with about a second between bursts. It sounds like; TUT...TUT...TUT, TUT. TUT .TUT, TUT...TUT...TUT, TUT...TUT... TUT, TUT... TUT, or any variation of clucks. The rhythm is somewhat like the Flying Cackle, and I have used a Flying Cackle to get a tom to "shock gobble." I also use this call to bring in a tom that hangs up.

Flying Call

The Flying Cackle is the sound a turkey makes when flying up or down from the roost, or when flying across ravines. Many hunters have difficulty with the correct tempo of this call. Actually, it's quite easy; the calling of a bird in the air is directly related to the downbeat of the wing stroke, it's when the bird contracts it's chest muscles and exhales, it's the only time the bird can call. If you are trying to imitate this call visualize the action of the turkey as it takes off, first with slow powerful wing beats, then faster, and tapering off slowly before gliding and landing. I often use this call to get a "shock gobble" from a tom before daylight, so I can locate the tree it is in. I also use it to get a tom to come off the roost in my direction.

Advertising/Mating Calls

Tom turkeys Gobble to express social status, telling other males they are ready to fight to prove their dominance, and to attract hens. The Gobble is most often heard while the bird is on the roost early in the morning. Studies show that most gobbling occurs from about a forty-five minutes before to forty-five minutes after sunrise. Individual toms also call most frequently at this time. Gobbling is a means of long distance communication and the tom may expect the hen to come to him, if she is ready to breed. However, I often see toms arrive at the strut where the hens are already calling. Whether the toms are responding to the calling of the hens or not I am not sure. Use a gobble only when you are sure there are no other hunters in the area, because they may mistake you for a turkey.

Hens in the presence of a tom may Whine, causing the tom to begin strutting. The medium pitched single drawn out errr of the Whine or Purr may be used by the hen to get the male to prove how large, colorful and healthy it is. I use this call when toms are close, to convince them there is a hen nearby. It has been said that hens make a whut churr - whut churr when they are ready to breed, and a prrrt - prrrt while being bred.

This article is an excerpt from the Turkey Addict's Manual ($14.95 + $5.00 s&h), by T.R. Michels. It is available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.

 

Daily Turkey Activity 9/1/03

Turkeys normally roost in trees at night, wake up about an hour before daylight, begin calling about a half-hour before daylight, and fly down from their roost from a half-hour to ten minutes before daylight. Once they are on the ground they usually look for food. If they land in wooded areas they may look for nearby food; they generally move to an open feeding area within a half hour. Whether they are in wooded, shrub or open areas they search for seeds, nuts, grasses, forbes and small insects on the ground.

I've seen a wintering flock of turkeys spend four hours in a cornfield in early spring, prior to the breeding season. However, the normal amount of time spent by large flocks or groups feeding in open areas is about an hour to an hour and a half. Then they move to a new opening or into the woods. During mid-day the turkeys may loaf in wooded areas and fly up to roost. They generally begin to feed again in the late afternoon, and fly back up to roost at about sundown.

Habits

Turkey habits vary greatly by region and even local areas. Some Eastern and Merriam's turkeys become accustomed to human activity and inhabit cities and towns, while a few miles away the mere sight of a car will send birds into cover. In some western areas turkeys may frequent farmyards, use farm groves and buildings for roost sites, exhibit no fear of humans, dogs or livestock, and become pets.

Reaction to Danger

Wild turkeys are extremely wary, with excellent eyesight, but they don't hear much better than the average human. However, they are very aware of suspicious noises and their first reaction to possible danger is alarm, and when they are alarmed they usually run away or take flight. Turkeys have better eyesight than humans, but, because of their widely spaced eyes they have poor binocular vision and depth perception. They see very little in front of them with both eyes at the same time, which makes it difficult for them to determine relative size and distance of objects. Any unexpected movement makes them alert.

While the first response of a turkey to danger is an alarm call and then flight, it will not usually leave its home range. Because of the small size of their brain turkeys don't have the ability to learn as well as animals with larger brains. With limited ability to learn, and because they inhabit a traditional home range, fleeing turkeys usually do not leave their range but flee back into it; or if they do leave they return soon after. Because they have not been outside their home range, the risk of danger is greater outside the home range than in it. Turkeys seldom vacate their home range because of hunting pressure; they may be hunted out of an area, but not driven out. They do not even avoid places that have been dangerous to them in the past. I have shot turkeys in the same area where they were shot at and missed the day before.

This article is an excerpt from the Turkey Addict's Manual ($14.95 + $5.00 s&h), by T.R. Michels. It is available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.

Click here for more Turkey Hunting Tips.

 

 

 

 

 

T.R.'s Tips: Turkey Hunting  

T.R. Michels with Merriam's Turkey

Pre-Season Turkey Scouting

Two of the main factors contributing to poor hunter success are not being familiar with the property, and not observing the game to understand it, and help locate and pattern it. The more time and effort you spend on the property, getting to know the land and observing the animals, the more you will learn, and the better hunter you will be. There are no shortcuts to knowledge; the best teacher is experience.

Choosing A Hunting Area

To be successful as a hunter you need to find areas that offer a sufficient number of animals to hunt; areas with high success rates; or areas where trophies are known to occur, or have come from, in the past. If you are interested in a particular species or subspecies you need to find the areas where it occurs. Once you have determined the general area you wish to hunt, a state for instance, the next step is to determine the county or unit to hunt, then the property, and finally you will want to locate the best places to hunt for the animal on the property.

The first part of locating game, determining the right area to hunt, is what I call research. The second part, the actual location, consists of understanding the animal, and personal experience in knowing the areas to look for the animals or signs of them. I refer to this as scouting. All of these "keys;" research, understanding, personal experience and scouting are necessary to successfully locate the animal and their "high use areas. Without all four "keys" locating is difficult, if not frustrating.

Scouting

The act of locating game animals consists of two primary techniques, scouting and observing. The more time and effort you spend scouting and observing the animals, and recording what you have seen, the less time you will have to be spend patterning and hunting. Once you know where the animals are through scouting; and knowing the sex, size, and time to expect them in certain areas (based on observing and recording in a journal and marking on a map), it's a matter of determining the right spot at the right time to hunt. While you are scouting, looking for sign, you should also learn the land. You want to know where the food sources are, and what time of the year they are used. You should also look for the roosting areas, watering sites, breeding areas and travel routes.

When you are scouting for turkeys you want to know where the ravines, gullies, streams and fences are; obstacles that a turkey will detour around or maybe not cross. If you know where the openings and fields are you will be able to choose the best places to set up, and you will be able to estimate how long it will take a bird to come to your call. You also want to know the topography, the elevation of hills and valleys, so you know if the birds are above or below you. When you are calling try to be above the bird. Turkeys prefer to come uphill to a call rather than down.

You should know the land as thoroughly as the animals do, so you know where to find them under the current conditions and time of year. If you know the land, you will know where the birds when you hear but can't see them. If you see them you will know the route either you or the birds will travel, and approximately how long it will take. But, you won't know the number of birds, their size and sex, interesting characteristics, or when they use specific areas, unless you observe them.

Observing

One of the best ways to understand an animal is to observe it under natural conditions. The only way to know the numbers, size, sex, characteristics, and the time to expect the animals in particular locations is by spending some time and effort observing them. Scouting is learning the land and finding areas used frequently by the animals. Observing is watching, undetected, to learn more about the animals and have a better understanding of them. Observing is not accidentally running into or spooking animals.

An observation site should be a high point with a good view of much of the land, far enough away that you will not disturb the animals during their normal routine. A tree stand at the edge of field, or a hill, is a good site. By choosing the right spot to watch from you are able to see how the animals react to weather, light, hunting pressure, and other predators. You may also have a chance to hear the animals calling and see the body posture and movement associated with the call.

Recording

While you are scouting and observing you should also put your findings in a journal. Mark the places where you see the animals on a map, and mark the trails, resting, feeding, breeding and watering areas The more information you keep in a journal, and the more information you have on your map, the easier it will be to understand the animals and pattern them. Keep notes on date, day, time, sky conditions (amount of light), wind direction and speed, temperature, dewpoint, wind-chill, precipitation breeding phase, food availability, number of animals, sex, direction of travel, activity, size and any other factors that might help you better understand the animals.

Patterning

While observing the animals you may be able to determine regular travel routes and times they use, which will help you pattern the animals and make it easier to choose the right time and place to hunt them. Patterning cannot be done in a few hours, it may take days or even weeks. The more time and effort you spend observing the animals, the clearer the pattern will become, and the more you will learn and understand the animals.

High Use Areas

To locate turkeys you need a good topographical map of the area, or a good aerial photo. These visual aids will help determine where the "high use areas" of security cover, roosting sites, water, food, strutting, and travel areas are before you are even on the property. Then it's time to get on the property and scout for sign left by turkeys. Two prime areas you want to locate are the food sources, which often serve as strutting areas, and the roosting sites. These are the areas where turkeys spend a majority of their time and leave the most sign. They are also the areas where turkeys are the most predictable, where you have the best chance of ambushing or getting them to come to you. Find these areas and you will find the birds.

Reading Sign

While you are scouting look for tracks, particularly tracks in the 2 1/4 inch and larger range, with a deep or clear imprint of the middle toe with the scales showing. This indicates a large heavy bird, usually a tom. Tracks can be found along trails, in feeding and strutting areas (where wing drag marks may also occur), near roosting sites, and near wet areas.

Droppings are frequent in high use areas of trails, feeding, watering, strutting and roosting sites, and can tell you if a tom is in the area. Large straight or "J" shaped droppings are those of a tom. Bulbous or spiral droppings are those of a hen. Piles of droppings under large trees are a good indication of a roosting site.

Feathers are often found along trails, under roosts, in feeding areas and in or near dusting bowls (small depressions in the dirt) where the birds cover themselves with dust to help eliminate pests. Breast feathers with square black tips are those of toms, while rounded brown tipped feathers are those of a hen. Light tipped tail and rump feathers are those of a jake or tom.

Scratching is another sign of turkey use. Scratches appear as claw marks in the dirt, or large torn up areas in grass or leaves. When a turkey scratches it uses each foot several times, leaving a "V" pattern, with the point of the "V" showing the way the bird was facing. Turkeys scratch when they are searching for left over seeds and acorns, or new succulent green growth and insects. A sure sign of a turkey feeding area is torn up leaf litter with exposed forbes bitten off.

Once you have found the high use areas it’s a matter of more time and effort observing the birds to determine if there are toms or jakes, how many birds there are, the size of the birds, length or number of beards, and other interesting features. Observing on a regular basis will help you determine when the birds fly down, which direction they go, the route they take, where they feed, and where they go to strut, water and roost. You need to record all this information in your journal and mark it on a map (which will help you pattern the birds), so you know where and when to hunt.

 

Spring Turkey Calling; Family Relationship and Social Status

Much of the calling hunters hear in the spring is used to keep the families, and the flock together. Many of these calls fall into the Social Contact and Maternal/Neonatal Calls category. Let's review some of these calls.

Hen "Family" Calls

The Yelp is often the first sound of the day, a soft, nasal, three to five note call performed while the birds are on the roost before daylight. It is a soft chirp-chirp-chirp ... chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp, or a variation. There are usually three to four notes per second, with each note being about .08 seconds in length. This call is used by a bird when it is telling the others it is awake and asking if there are other birds nearby and awake. In the case of spring turkeys, it is often one of the female family members asking if the other family members are still there. I use this call in the morning to see if the birds are still on the roost.

The Assembly Yelp is used by the hen to regroup the young, and this probably carries over to some extent in spring calling. This call usually consists of six to ten or more evenly spaced yelps that are loud and sharp, with two to four notes per second, and each note lasting from .12 to .20 seconds. I often hear hens make a loud, long series of yelps while they are on the strut during the breeding phase. I am not sure if this is an Assembly Yelp or a Lost Yelp. But, I do know that toms often show up in areas where hens are making this call. I use Lost Yelps and Assembly Yelps to get a tom fired up on the roost, and to keep it coming once it is on the ground.

The Lost Yelp is much like the Plain Yelp, but it is often used by female offspring to locate their mother in the spring, particularly after the hens have been bred and begun nesting. When they return to traditional feeding/strutting areas they often try to regroup with each other. This may call contain twenty or more notes, and it becomes louder toward the end of the call. The bird's voice may "break" as it tries to make the call as loud as possible, which causes it to have a raspy sound. There may be from three to four notes per second, with each note lasting .10 to .15 seconds.

Hen Flock Social Contact Calls

Adult turkeys use many different yelps and clucks to keep in contact in different situations. Most yelps are the same as the "Here I am, where are you?" call of geese and other flocking birds, which is used to keep the birds in contact with each other. These calls are basically variations of the hen "family" calls.

The Plain Yelp is performed when turkeys are within seeing distance of each other. It often consists of three to nine notes, all on the same pitch and of the same volume, with three to four notes per second, and each note lasting .08 to .10 seconds; chirp, chirp, chirp. I use this call when toms are up close, or within seeing distance of the decoys.

The Plain Cluck is used by turkeys to get the visual attention of another bird. It is primarily a close range contact call, again saying "Here am I, where are you?" A bird making this call wants to hear another bird make the same call so they can get together. It is a sharp, short sound, similar to the alarm putt but not as loud or as insistent; tut...tut. The notes of the cluck are often separated by as much as three seconds, which distinguishes it from the faster, closely spaced Fast Cutt. I often hear hens use several soft Clucks and Purrs while they are feeding. It sounds like putt, putt, putt, errr, putt .... putt, putt, putt, errr. I use this call when a tom hangs up nearby, or to stop it for a shot.

The Fast Cutt, or Cutting, is one turkey using the "Here I am, where are you?" but telling the other bird "If we are going to get together you have to come to me." It is a loud insistent call, and the notes are strung together in bursts of two's and three's, with about a second between bursts. It sounds like; TUT...TUT...TUT, TUT. TUT .TUT, TUT...TUT...TUT, TUT...TUT... TUT, TUT... TUT, or any variation of clucks. The rhythm is somewhat like the Flying Cackle, and I have used a Flying Cackle to get a tom to "shock gobble." I also use this call to bring in a tom that hangs up.

Male Groups; Family and Social Contact Calls

Hunters may also not realize that the males in a tom or jake group may also be related. Since dominance, or social status, is often established when the birds are growing up, and because there is very little squabbling for social status between family members (because social status is already established), it is easy to see how male turkeys who are brothers may stay together as long as the live. Again this means they know the voices of each other. So, they often use the same social contact calls the hens use, except they generally have deeper voices. And because they are males and do not separate to go off and lay eggs, they rarely use the "family calls" such as the Assembly Yelp and the Lost Yelp, or the Fast Cluck. The may use Tree Yelps and Plain Yelps to help them remain in contact with each other.

What this all boils down to is that it is difficult for a hunter to convince a turkey it is a member of its family or flock. However, this doesn't mean calling won't work, because you can use hen calls to call toms, and you can use aggressive hen calls, such as a Fighting Purr, to call in hen groups. What it does mean is that hunter should "think" about what they are trying to simulate when they call, and use the appropriate calls to accomplish their task.

If you are interested in more turkey hunting tips, or more biology and behavior, click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.'s Hunting Tips at TRMichels.com. If you have questions about turkeys log on to the T.R.'s Tips message board.

This article is an excerpt from the Turkey Addict's Manual ($14.95 + $5.00 s&h), by T.R. Michels. It is available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.

Click here for more Turkey Hunting Tips.

 

Spring Turkey Hunting

After you have spent time and effort understanding, locating, observing, recording and patterning the turkeys you can put everything you have learned into practice. You have chosen the state you want to hunt, the unit and the property. You have spent hours scouting and watching the birds and know where the roost is, the travel route the birds normally use, the time they usually come off the roost, and the time they arrive at their favorite feeding spot, and where the toms gobble and strut to attract a receptive hen. Now you are ready to hunt.

Roosting A Bird

To be sure which roost the tom is using I go out the night before the hunt to "put a bird to bed." I stop near the area where I expect the tom to be roosted and crow or owl call, trying to get the bird to "shock gobble." Tom turkeys often shock gobble in response to a loud noise; a dog barking, door slamming, coyote, crow, owl or Pileated Woodpecker calling, even thunder. I prefer a crow or Pileated Woodpecker call during daylight, and a Barred Owl call during dusk and dark, when these animals are most often heard. If I don't get an answer I move to the next likely roosting site, one where I have observed birds before. I continue moving until I get a response, then I get close enough to tell exactly which ravine and which group of trees the bird is in, so I can set up near the bird the next morning.

I know several hunters who did not determine the exact roost site, and then set up too near or right under the roost tree the next morning. When this happens the bird may flush out early; watch as you approach under cover of darkness and remain on the roost; or fly away from you instead of coming to your calls and decoys. Once I have put the bird to bed and determined its location I leave the area as quietly as possible, so I don't spook the turkey off the roost. On my way out I take note of the surrounding terrain and mark certain features in my mind, so I can find the roost the next morning.

Choosing A Setup Site

Before returning to hunt the next morning I review my knowledge of the land and look at my topographical maps and aerial photos. I check the weather conditions for that day knowing that clouds, rain, snow or heavy wind may keep the birds on the roost longer than normal. Then I look for the feeding and strutting area closest to where the bird is roosted, and the nearest water. Turkeys often go to the nearest feeding area when they fly down shortly after daylight, or head for water if it is close. With the knowledge gained during my scouting, observing and patterning I know the route the bird is likely to take after it flies down. If I have observed the birds under the current weather conditions I know what they do, and where the best areas to setup or ambush them are. If I am not sure what they will do I make an informed guess, and hope they come my way, or respond to my call.

Before I go to my hunting site I use an owl call to get the tom to shock gobble, to be sure it is still on the roost. I make a point of getting to my hunting site before dawn so I don't spook the birds. If I do spook a bird going in before daylight, and I am there long enough and out of sight, it usually forgets I am there. When I get to my setup site I decide where the bird is likely to appear, where to place my decoys, and where to sit. Then I get in front of a large tree to break up my outline. Many hunters choose a large tree to lean against to protect their back.

Calling

When I hear the first sounds of the turkeys in the spring, just before daylight, I tree yelp softly to get their attention. If there are hens roosted nearby they may respond with their own tree yelps, toms often gobble. If you aren't fully awake yet the sound of an early morning gobble can really get your heart pumping. From here on it's a matter of experience and personal tactics. I try to imitate all the sounds that are normally heard. In the morning the tom expects to hear the sounds a hen or flock makes on the roost; the tree yelp, pit and cluck. When the birds fly down they yelp or do the flying cackle. If the tom is close enough he expects to hear flapping wings. I use all these sounds to convince the tom there is a hen or flock in the area, and to get him to come my way.

My first call is a tree yelp, and if I get a gobble I yelp a little louder. I may or may not get a response, either way I have to make a decision to do something. I usually wait until I hear the turkeys moving, then I use the flying cackle and the Flapp 'n Tom or Wing Thing flapper to simulate the sound of a hen flying down. The combination of these sounds usually gets the attention of the tom and gets him fired up enough to gobble, and often to come in.

If the tom doesn't answer, or is reluctant to come, I make the sounds of birds feeding on the ground. I start out slow and easy with soft yelps, purrs, whines and clucks. I rustle the leaves, simulating birds scratching and feeding. If I get a response I keep doing it, letting the tom set the tempo of the calling. When he gobbles, I wait awhile then gobble back. As long as he keeps answering and seems to be coming my way I keep it up. My motto is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

More times than not the bird will "hang up" and not come in. Maybe he is with a hen, maybe he is detouring around some obstacle, maybe he is spooky or alerted; maybe he just doesn't want to come. This is when I try something different or get aggressive, when experience helps and the game begins. There is no set routine to get a reluctant tom to come. This is the time to experiment, fail and learn. When a tom hangs up I first use a loud assembly yelp or lost yelp, trying to imitate a hen looking for other hens. These calls work well on most toms and jakes, because it means there are hens nearby. If that doesn't work I use a series of loud hen clucks, imitating a bird trying to get another bird to show itself. If that doesn't work I use the fast cluck or cutting, the sound of a bird telling the other bird that if they are going to get together the other bird will have to do the walking. This call is very effective on reluctant dominant toms; it does not work well on subdominant toms and jakes because it may scare them. When I use the fast cutt I make sure the call is loud and insistent, telling the other bird "come on over here." If the tom still won't come in I use the deep cluck or yelp of a jake along with the hens cluck, to get the tom to think there is a young male with "his" hen. Often the tom will come in to establish dominance, ready to fight the jake for the hen.

If these calls fail, I resort to the fighting purr of two birds. This call appeals to a turkey's curiosity, it wants to know which birds are fighting and why. Just like teenage boys after school in the parking lot, they just have to go and watch. Turkeys watch to see if a dominant bird is defeated, leaving room for them to move up in the hierarchy and gain dominance. The fighting purr works especially well on dominant toms because they want to know which birds in "their" area are fighting, and why; the fight may be over a receptive hen and the tom wants to have the chance to breed her.

This article is an excerpt from the Turkey Addict's Manual ($14.95 + $5.00 s&h), by T.R. Michels. It is available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products Catalog.

 Click here for more Turkey Hunting Tips.

 

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